Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Paperless Office, Really!

Back in the last millennium, the paperless office was heralded a number of times with great fanfare. After each such pronouncement that the paperless office had finally arrived, paper use increased.

But I have seen Nirvana at one of my clients, Cisco. Cisco has several hoteling type office buildings. The working environment:

  • There is no assigned seating and no offices and most importantly no filing cabinets. At the end of each day, the worker is expected to clear out of the workspace, no computer, no paper, no personal mementos, no coffee cup --- all items must be gone.
  • If the worker is lucky he / she will have snagged a small cubby which is 1 foot by 1 foot by 1.5 feet in size. Too small to store much paper and mostly used for the coffee cup, snacks, etc.
  • Cisco provides all workers with laptops and wireless connections throughout all buildings. Workers bring laptops to meetings and often use WebEx to facilitate the meeting. Consequently there are no hand-outs. Presentations are viewed on-line.
  • There are the usual number of color printers scattered throughout the building.
This strategy results in a huge reduction in paper.

I have noticed a change in my own behavior. With no place to store, and the convenience of laptop wherever I go, I rarely print. Occasionally, I will print if I need to reconcile multiple documents or proof-read an important document. I keep a small stack of often referred to documents, no more than 40 pages in total.

Had Cisco just constrained paper storage, there would have been loud complaints. Likewise, had Cisco just provided convenient electronic access but maintained paper storage, the migration to paperless would have been much slower relying on standard adoption curve of innovators - adopters - majority - laggards. It is the brilliant combination of constraining current methods while providing a great alternative that achieved the goal of the paperless office.

Please see my
earlier post on paper for more ideas and discussion on impact of paper to the environment.

The key to implementing a paperless office is to constrain paper storage plus provide convenient electronic access to documents at all times including meetings.

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